Textual Evidence suggests that response to Buddhism in China changed numerous times from the collapse of the Han Dynasty till the end of the Tang Dynasty. Although the true form of Buddhism (Theravada) was never accepted in China, the chinese did accept, eventually include and then reject Mahayana Buddhism. It was rejected at first because it wasn’t chinese and did not conform to chinese customs. But at that time, (6 Dynasties Period) the chinese were desperately looking for ways of salvation.
So they accepted Buddhism but only a form that met their demands. In turn, it introduced discipline and sincerity. Later, some recognized that Buddhism was similar to many of the existing religions in China and decided to observe all 3 with respect. At the end of the Tang dynasty, Buddhism was heavily rejected because it was foreign and it gave power to the monks.
Buddhism originated in India when Siddhartha Gautama, a luxurious prince, gave up his worldly pleasures and became an ascetic. When he became enlightened he was named the Buddha and he took the aim to show the lower caste hindus that there was a path to salvation that did not involve the caste system. He slowly gained followers teaching them about the Middle Path. Buddhism began to spread during the 3rd Century AD when it finally arrived in China. The people of China were living terrible lives and the 6 dynasties were fighting each other for power. At that time, Buddhism looked to provide salvation as it promised a better life. From that point on, Buddhism was very prominent in China, until the Anti-Buddhist Backlash took place at the end of the Tang Dynasty where numerous forces took turns to kick Buddhism out of China.
According to document 1, the response to Buddhism at the time when it was introduced to China was a rejection because it conflicted with Confucian Ideas and Chinese norms. In document 1, the map depicts the spread of different versions of Buddhism from India to the different regions of Southeast and East Asia. One can see that Theravada Buddhism, the original form of the religion, never made it to China or the regions subordinate to it during the 3rd Century AD. Theravada Buddhism wasn’t accepted by the Chinese because it wasn’t native and anything that wasn’t native to China was considered Barbaric. Theravada Buddhism also conflicted with Confucian beliefs as it demanded that only a monk could achieve Nirvana.
Being a monk needed the man to leave his worldly pleasures and live life of sincerity. This hurt the importance of an extended family.But at that time, China was going through its 6 Dynasties period and the chinese were living terrible lives. They were desperately looking for ways of salvation. Since Buddhism promised a better life, the chinese decided to accept the religion but also to modify it to some extent.
This led to the rise of Mahayana Buddhism. The changes were made so that Buddhism respected most of the confucian ideas and wasn’t as strict as its other form.According to the documents 2 and 3, the response to Buddhism changed from rejection to acceptance, by the late 4th Century AD, as it showed promise by providing people salvation and introducing discipline while maintaining certain chinese customs due to its modifications. In document 2, Zhi Dun, a chinese scholar and confidant of the aristocrats, said that Buddhism allows one to escape the cycle of rebirth and provide a better life than the existing one. He also mentions that whoever follows the way of the Buddha becomes enlightened and is gifted with Nirvana.This personal message was written in c.350 AD, at the time of the 6 Dynasties Period. People were living terrible lives, the 6 Dynasties were fighting to power and people were begging for salvation.
Although Buddhism was rejected by the chinese, they agreed upon to accept Buddhism but also modify it. The only reason Buddhism was accepted by the chinese was because it promised its followers a better life and that was what most chinese wanted.In document 3, Faxian gives a description of what he say while he was in Chang’an and how it contrasted with what he saw while he was in India. He mentions that chinese disciplinary rules were imperfect and needed correction. On his expeditions to India, he had taken note of the discipline and sincerity demonstrated by the Buddhist monks and wanted to incorporate the same amongst the chinese. He even advised his friends and colleagues to visit India and learn some discipline through Buddhism.
He strongly believed that Buddhism could bring discipline and order in China while the dynasties fought for power and the people suffered.According to document 6, the Chinese started to recognize the similarities between Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism. They began to incorporate Buddhism along with the other 2 religions because they were very similar and promised to create an orderly society.
In document 6, Zong Mi, a Buddhist scholar, stated that all the 3 major religions in China had a very similar purpose. They were designed to help a person create and maintain an orderly life, and help them distinguish between the good and the evil. Thus he wanted the chinese to observe all three religions with equal respect.According to the documents 5 and 7, the Chinese began to oppose Buddhism and considered it bad for the civilization as it wasn’t native to China, and hindered with the economy of the empire. In document 5, Han Yu, a respected court official, and a confucian scholar wrote an open letter to the emperor hoping that the emperor takes measures to eradicate Buddhism.
He says that Buddhism wasn’t native to China and the lifestyle of a monk didn’t conform with the Chinese laws. Han Yu believed that Buddhism was a cult of Barbarians who were setting up a bad example for the people of China.This letter was addressed to the Tang Emperor, in order to inform him the about the bad influence of Buddhism and how it contradicted with Confucian norms. Han Yu hoped that if he could convince the emperor that Buddhism was bad for his subjects and the empire, the Emperor would take measures to restrict the power of the monks, and eventually, eradicate Buddhism from China. The Emperor had the power to make laws and rules that could bring about changes and deal the final blow to Buddhism.In document 7, Emperor Wu stated that Buddhism was hindering with the the economy of China. The monks relied on silk workers and farmers for clothes and food.
This demand was difficult to meet, especially in times of shortage of labor as most became monks. He also stated that Buddhism causes one to break the Confucian norms they had been following before Buddhism was introduced in China. Altogether his aim was to take measures to eradicate Buddhism from China.Emperor Wu addressed this message in c. 845 AD. At this time, China was going through the Anti-Buddhist Backlash. Numerous emperors were creating new laws and making changes that were aimed to reduce the power of the Buddhist monks and nuns.
Some destroyed monasteries, some issued taxes on the land of the monasteries and some took charges to eradicate Buddhism.There were numerous emperors who attempted to make new laws, thereby reducing the power of the Buddhist monks, but none were as intolerant as Emperor Wuzong (r.841-847 AD).
Before his reign, the Buddhist monks accumulated loads of wealth, land and resources. Upon coming to power, Emperor Wu started persecuting Buddhists. He destroyed thousands of shrines and sent numerous monks back to the farmland.
The monks and their slave workers were once again subjected to taxation and the monastery land was given to landlords for taxation. Never again were the Buddhist monks allowed to have wealth and political power which they had enjoyed during the first centuries of the Tang rule. This shows how Emperor Wu kept his word in document 6 and restricted the power of the Buddhist monks. He would have eradicated Buddhism from China had his reign been longer.